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Training Consultant Gives Answers to Dealing with Difficult Students (Interview)

Jane Britt is an experienced Training Consultant. She started her career as an Events Manager, but after a number of years she went looking for a career change and decided to enter the training world. She first received a certificate in Training and Assessing and then decided to get a Diploma of Management.

She is currently in the final weeks of a two-year post graduate degree, a Master’s of Training and Development. While studying, she has been working in a variety of RTOs in an effort to widen her experiences. She has now experienced classroom training, workplace one-on-one coaching, and online education. In this interview, she offers tips and advice on dealing with less than enthusiastic students. You may contact her on LinkedIn.

Q. What are your responsibilities as a Training Consultant?

As a Training Consultant, I work predominately with work-based students who are looking to extend their abilities by building on their workplace experience with a little theory. My area of focus is on Management and Project Management. I meet with the students across a range of mediums – some are part of a class group, some are one-on-one in the workplace, while others are distance students who “meet” me over skype, email and phone.

My responsibilities include explaining the broader context of the unit to the student, guiding them through the resources, and helping them to apply the theory to the real world of their workplace. It is this last one which is often most difficult for some students, but which is so rewarding when it all works out! It is one thing for a student to understand the theory, but to see them walk away with a practical skill that they can use to make measurable improvements to their workplace, that’s when you know that they’ve “got it.”

Q. What training methods have you found are most effective to get your point across to students?

I am a very big believer in experiential learning, which is a theory of learning that essentially boils down to the idea that all adults come to learning with a wealth of experience and the best way for them to create new understanding is to draw on that experience. A second important aspect of experiential learning is the premise that it is the student who creates their own understanding, not the teacher – which means that they must actively engage in the experience if they are to learn anything that is meaningful and long lasting for them.

So, with this theory underpinning my teaching, I hate the idea of the teacher being the “content expert” who stands at the front of the class and lectures. Instead, I tend to teach using stories from my own workplace experience to highlight the theories we are discussing and then actively encourage the students to jump in and add their stories and experiences to the conversation. Even if the students aren’t sure how relevant their story is, there’s usually something in there that we can tease out, which helps them understand the concepts.

So, if the subject is financial planning, we talk about how they saved up to buy their first car or how they make sure the money lasts until next pay day. Students shouldn’t be walking away thinking about all the new buzz words, they should be walking away with a practical idea of how to take the classroom discussion and make it work in the real world.

Q. Have you ever had a really difficult student? How did you deal with him or her?

I think the most difficult students that I personally have come across are the conscripted learners – the ones who are only there because someone (usually their boss) has told them they have to be there. It’s difficult because they may feel like it’s a waste of their time to be in the classroom or they may wonder why should they listen to me when they’ve been doing this for years.

The best way I’ve found to approach this kind of student is to show them that I respect their knowledge. I tell them that I don’t have any magic silver bullets and I’m not there to impart wisdom onto them. I also explain that I’m there just to talk with them about what they’ve done in the past and to help them understand which direction to head for the future. I ask them to tell me their stories – to look at the topic of the lesson and to talk about times when they’ve experienced that in the real world. From there, I can guide the class into a discussion where they essentially workshop together to find out what bits worked and what bits didn’t. I lead them along so that by the end of the lesson they have come up with some tangible steps for how to improve, but at the same time they can take ownership of their learning because they have had so much input.

This approach doesn’t necessarily work every single time (like I said – no magic silver bullets… that’s my motto for teaching!), but it can help to get people onside who think that they don’t want to be there.

Q. What advice would you give present and future trainers?

My advice would be: don’t try to be the content expert. Nobody can know everything… even trainers!!!

When someone throws you a curly question, put it back at the class… ask them what they think. If you’re lucky, one of the students will come up with the answer. At the very least, getting the students to talk first will give you some thinking time to come up with an answer. If all else fails, don’t be scared to admit that you don’t know… there’s nothing worse than a trainer ‘faking it’ – the students can see straight through that! Instead, tell them that you haven’t come across that situation, but that you’ll do some research for next class.

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